Once a year, on Thanksgiving, I revisit the Turkey City Lexicon.
Never heard of the Turkey City Lexicon? Then you are probably not an SFF (sci-fi/fantasy) writer. The TCL was collected and published by the Turkey City Workshop, a sci-fi writers' workshop out of Austin, Texas. It's a collection of terms describing Things That SF Writers Do that, probably, they shouldn't. I'm not talking about drinking and driving and eating too much (like many SF writers may have done yesterday), but about writerly things like overusing adverbs and revisiting tired plot devices. You can find it here on the SFWA website.
A couple of my favorite items include:
Fuzz An element of motivation the author was too lazy to supply. The word “somehow” is a useful tip-off to fuzzy areas of a story. “Somehow she had forgotten to bring her gun.
You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit An attempt to defuse the reader’s incredulity with a pre-emptive strike — as if by anticipating the reader’s objections, the author had somehow answered them. “I would never have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it myself!” “It was one of those amazing coincidences that can only take place in real life!” “It’s a one-in-a-million chance, but it’s so crazy it just might work!” Surprisingly common, especially in SF. (Attr. John Kessel)As you can see, these errors are not exclusive to SFF writing.
Recently I have been watching the first season of "24" on Netflix, which provides many examples of this little TCL gem:
Idiot Plot A plot which functions only because all the characters involved are idiots. They behave in a way that suits the author’s convenience, rather than through any rational motivation of their own. (Attr. James Blish)Because I've seen so many TCL items represented in crime fiction, I've decided to add a few of my own crime-fiction-related items to the Lexicon. Although I've never been to Austin and I don't know any of the TCL creators, I call my addendum "Turkey City Noir."
Ross Thomas A character who drinks enough to put an elephant under the table twice over—but remains competent and functional.
Kinsey Milhone Any female sleuth who drives a cute car.
Perry Mason A mystery in which the killer can reliably be guessed by simply choosing the most unlikely suspect.
Burkism Ending a chapter or scene with a bizarre metaphor or image, as, “…my knuckles were round and white as quarters on the steering wheel.” Or “…her calves clicking with light in the bright air.” (examples from Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke)
Bottoms Up A book that opens from the point of view of a dying person.
Jesus Plot A character presumed to be dead near the beginning of a book turns up alive.
Thin Man A character who does not exist.
Effing Cozy A cozy that contains the F word.
One Bad Thing After Another A novel in which each chapter brings a new personal disaster (loss of child, loss of limb, loss of husband, public humiliation, sudden weight gain, loss of job, etc.) until, at the end, one good thing happens that makes it possible for the protagonist to go on with his or her miserable life.
DoG PileD A mystery in which the protagonist represents a small minority, every member of which will buy the book. (from Disabled Gay Portuguese Detective.)
Slippery Witness A plot that hinges on the detective putting off, for various and trivial reasons, interviewing the one witness who holds the key to the mystery.